Artistic creativity not easy for perfectionists

By Kendra Johnson, Arts Editor

I’m a perfectionist. …No, really.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. “Everybody says that because it sounds good and responsible and all that.” But I’m totally serious.

Way too serious, in fact.

I’m the 12-year-old kid who had to be dragged away from the piano because otherwise, I would keep practicing the same exact song for twenty minutes longer than I was supposed to because “I just need to get that one measure right.”

It happened so often that my siblings would actually beg me to stop.

I spent hours at the local park’s terribly run-down soccer field while my sibling drilled me on goalkeeping skills, practicing three or four nights a week, for two whole summers.

Never mind that the team I played for was a recreational team that formally practiced a total of once a week. It didn’t matter to me how I compared to the team’s standards; it mattered how I compared to myself. In my own eyes, if I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t good enough.

When it came to starting college, things weren’t much different.

I listened on the first day of freshman year as my professors told their students over and over again the importance of trying your best, giving it your all. “You’re paying for this education, so make it count,” they said.

So, I did. I gave it my all.

I still have 13 separate word documents saved on my computer from the first college research paper I wrote; all of them are different versions or portions of only one assignment.

Anytime I had the chance I took the paper I was working on and talked it over with someone else, just like they had us do in my Honors Critical Skills class.

(I still do that now. This column was read by three other people before it was submitted.)

I proofread my first Civ daily reading response sheets. Twice.

I carefully labored over every single word of every reading assignment during that Civ semester, because “SparkNotes just can’t equal the educational value of reading it yourself.”

When I asked about an advising meeting to prepare for Spring 2019, my advisor burst into laughter, then promptly apologized. Maybe the fact that I was asking about advising in September had something to do with why?

So… yeah. All that to say: I’m a perfectionist.

But then things changed in college.

I’m a theatre major and that has gradually started to shift the way I look at things. I’ve loosened up (a little).

This is not to slag theatre students, or say that I don’t care about the quality of the stuff I do. Of course, I do and I should.

But that’s beside the point.

Theatre is a creative field, and that means coming up with creative solutions which means – deep breath – being able and willing to frequently mess up big time, in order to succeed once.

Publicly messing up does not come naturally to everyone, definitely not to me.

Throwing away six drafts of a paper? Yes, I’m used to that. Yet the only one who sees those drafts are me and maybe a peer reviewer. Make a less than stellar move in rehearsal or performance and everyone in the room knows. That’s nerve-wracking.

But as I’ve advanced in my classes, I’ve figured out that the only way to get it right is to repeatedly risk getting it wrong.

Having a bunch of great people around you supporting you through the risk is key. Yet, so is being willing to look silly in order to communicate something that matters and do something you love.

So, through my classes, I’ve learned some things. Or, rather, three things.

1). Perfection is impossible (at least without some major deus ex machina type God-intervention, anyway).

2). You will drive yourself crazy if you try to force perfection.

3). Sometimes broken, messed up messes are the most beautiful moments of your life.

Not everything is serious. Not everything has to be perfect. The little things that seem to matter so much right now and look so ugly are really so very, very small in the scheme of life.

I’m going to fail an exam, and so are you. That’s part of being human. But the story doesn’t end there. We learn by making mistakes. It’s part of life and, even better, we worship a God who can do incredible things with total screw-ups.

So instead of fighting it, enjoy the process. Make that huge ridiculous choice in rehearsal. That choice you’re so nervous to make – it could end up being the best choice you can imagine. So cut yourself some slack.

Don’t just take care of making yourself perfect; take care of yourself for your own sake. Take a nap. Give yourself the time for a heart to heart with a friend.

Your grades matter; your responsibilities matter; but so do you. You matter to the God who made you and He does not make mistakes. Rather, He plants seeds and lets them grow.

Although I have to admit, sometimes I just wish those seeds would hurry up, skip the growing pains and turn into a flower.

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